Social protection

How is social protection affected by climate change?

Available evidence suggests climate change will have serious adverse long-term impacts on the lives of social protection beneficiaries, given the severity of shocks and the inadequacy of risk protection. Increases in climate change, and particularly climate-induced agricultural variability, are likely to increase the need for safety nets to prevent greater hunger and to improve household welfare (FAO, 2016). There are potentially strong complementarities between social protection instruments and climate-related interventions: both seek to minimise the risks faced by vulnerable people and promote resilience (Davies et al., 2008).

Social protection has been identified as one of the priority strategies for adaptation in developing countries (FAO, 2016). However, evidence on the value of social protection for adaptation is still relatively limited as is evidence of the impact of climate change on social protection programming (Davies et al., 2008). Yet available evidence shows how social protection programmes can increase people’s resilience, such as by enhancing human capital (nutrition, health, education), promoting productive livelihoods (e.g. agricultural investments) and boosting the local economy (FAO, 2015; 2016).

Social assistance programmes contribute to household risk management and resilience. For example, beneficiaries are less likely to use negative coping strategies (e.g. reducing meals, selling off livestock) that can lead to long-term decline in household socioeconomic well-being (FAO, 2015; 2016). Given predictability and regularity in implementation, social protection instruments can support households to better manage risks and engage in more profitable livelihoods. When they are directed towards women, they not only empower women ‒ they improve the welfare of the whole household because of women’s main care role (e.g. food, children’s education and well-being). UNEP et al. (2013) note that building the asset base of women is particularly important in improving their adaptive capacity. Evidence from social protection initiatives indicates that when women have been given financial decision-making power, initiatives have been successful in achieving poverty reduction results (expert comment).

Experts broadly agree that considering climate change in social protection programme design is invaluable to address the multiple vulnerabilities and risks faced by poor and excluded communities (Leavy & Gorman, 2012; Davies et al., 2008). Social protection programmes may be made more robust in the context of climate variability and shocks by better aligning social protection, climate adaptation, and disaster risk reduction.

This principle underlies adaptive social protection (ASP), which can reduce dependency on climate-sensitive livelihoods, address structural causes of poverty, and establish a longer-term perspective on the changing nature of stresses and shocks (Davies et al., 2009). Some social protection programmes use environmental targeting criteria (combining poverty and food security mapping and climate-related risk assessments), and some public works programmes include environmentally-friendly climate-resilient assets to reduce vulnerability (FAO, 2015). Climate-aware social protection should be scalable and flexible, include direct investments in livelihoods that build community and household resilience, and promote better climate risk management (Kuriakose et al., 2010).

Davies, M., Oswald, K., Mitchell, T., & Tanner, T. (2008). Climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and social protection: Briefing note. Brighton: Centre for Social Protection/IDS.
This note reviews examples of social protection measures – cash transfers, weather-based crop insurance, employment guarantee schemes, asset transfers and social pensions – that can enhance the resilience of vulnerable communities. Social protection has much to offer in helping the poorest reduce their vulnerability to current (disaster risk reduction) and future (adaptation) climate shocks.

Browne, E. (2014). Social protection, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction (Rapid Literature Review) Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.
This report considers key issues and links between social protection, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. CCA, DRR and social protection all address vulnerability. The adaptive social protection framework argues that interventions must be integrated to successfully mitigate vulnerability ‒ CCA and DRR cannot address root causes of poverty and vulnerability, and social protection cannot change climate-dependent livelihoods. Key findings include:

  • cash transfer impacts on climate change effects are poorly understood ‒ further empirical analysis is needed;
  • insurance appears to reduce risk for farmers and improve livelihoods and resilience, but evidence is drawn mainly from case studies without broader conclusions;
  • public works projects appear to have potential to reduce vulnerability, although the body of evidence is still lacking;
  • social protection can help build and improve livelihoods, which contributes to adaptation by reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience ‒ but causality from social protection to livelihoods to DRR and CCA is difficult to establish.

FAO. (2016). Climate change and food security: Risks and responses. Rome: FAO.
This paper provides an overview of the effects of climate change on food security and nutrition and explores ways to reduce negative impacts through adaptation and resilience. It shows how climate change impacts on a series of vulnerabilities ‒ and presents ways to adapt and build resilience. The report suggests that reducing vulnerability and investing in resilience through social protection at household level is key to adaptation, as well as addressing gender-specific vulnerabilities. The report examines a range of actions needed and describes how to operationalise these interventions.

Kuriakose, A., Heltberg, R., Wiseman, W., Costella, C., Cipryk, R., & Cornelius, S. (2010). Climate-responsive social protection (Discussion Paper No. 1210). Washington, DC: World Bank.
Drawing on World Bank experience, this paper proposes a climate-responsive social protection framework. Key principles include climate-aware planning; livelihood-based approaches that take into account the full range of assets and institutions available to communities; and planning for the long-term to boost resilience. Four design features can help to achieve this: scalable and flexible programmes; climate-responsive targeting systems; investments in livelihoods that build community and household resilience; and the promotion of better climate risk management.

FAO. (2015). The state of food and agriculture: Social protection and agriculture – Breaking the cycle of rural poverty. Rome: FAO.
This document contends that social protection can improve poor households’ investment decisions by helping them manage risk (including climate-related). Social protection can increase the predictability of income and financial security, partially substituting for insurance, and providing liquidity. Social assistance programmes prevent households from falling into deeper poverty when exposed to shocks, while allowing for investment in productive activities and assets. Even relatively small transfers help the poor overcome liquidity and credit constraints, and provide insurance against risks that would otherwise deter them from higher-return activities. Social transfers also foster inclusion, facilitating participation in, and contribution to social networks, which help households cope with risk. Programmes that target women have stronger food security and nutrition impacts.

Social assistance

A key objective of risk reduction is to build and protect the asset base of vulnerable communities. Conditional or unconditional cash transfers or social assistance in kind (e.g. food aid, in-kind vouchers) can reduce short-term vulnerability and stimulate productive interventions that encourage livelihood diversification (Davies et al., 2008; Macours et al. 2012; FAO, 2016).

Arnold, C. (2011). Cash transfers: Literature review. London: DFID.
This report synthesises global evidence on the impact of cash transfers ‒ direct, regular and predictable non-contributory cash payments, such as child grants, which provide additional income to poor and vulnerable households. It draws on the findings of an independent review of DFID support to 24 social transfer programmes in 16 countries, as well as an extensive literature review. There is strong evidence that cash transfers can protect living standards and prevent households from suffering shocks. They can also promote wealth creation and potentially transform relationships within society. Unconditional cash transfers can offer greater choice and flexibility for recipients. However, questions remain over key design and implementation issues such as whether to impose conditionality. Gender sensitive design is critical. Priorities for DFID policy and programmes include further exploration of the role of social protection in climate change adaptation.

Godfrey Wood, R. (2011). Is there a role for cash transfers in climate change adaptation? Paper presented at International Conference on Social Protection for Social Justice, IDS, Brighton.
This paper assesses the potential of cash transfer programmes to contribute to adaptation goals in developing countries, particularly where existing social protection is inadequate. It argues that cash transfers are likely to contribute to adaptive capacity in many ways, including: meeting existing basic needs, thereby reducing short-term vulnerability; helping the poor respond to climate-related shocks; and reducing the pressure to engage in coping strategies that weaken long-term adaptive capacity. When compared to other adaptation options, cash transfers are supported by a substantial evidence base, have potential for scaling up, and are likely to gain local acceptance.

Macours, K., Permand, P., & Vakis, R. (2012). Transfers, diversification and household risk strategies: Experimental evidence with lessons for climate change adaptation (Policy Research Working Paper 6053). Washington, DC: World Bank.
This article provides experimental evidence on the impact of the Atenciόn a Crisis cash transfer programme in Nicaragua. The programme targeted agricultural households (primarily via women) in a drought-hit region from 2005 to 2006, aiming to provide an immediate safety net, while promoting poverty reduction and resilience through income diversification. The programme was experimental; households were randomly assigned to a control group or one of three treatment groups. All three treatment groups received Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT). Two groups received the same CCT plus a productive intervention – either vocational training or a grant to support productive investments. Household impacts were measured two years after programme closure. The productive interventions led to more diversification of economic activities and better protection from shocks compared to beneficiaries of the basic conditional cash transfers and control households. Households that received the productive investment grant also had higher average consumption levels. Results indicate that combining safety nets with productive interventions can help households manage future weather risks and promote longer-term impacts.

Risk transfer approaches

Risk transfer approaches, including index or weather-index insurance (an insurance scheme that responds to an objective parameter, e.g. a measure of rainfall or temperature, at a defined weather station, during an agreed time period), are receiving increasing attention in the context of adaptation to climate change. They can provide timely pay-outs following extreme weather events, enable greater access to credit and other livelihood inputs, and provide space for long-term development planning (Hellmuth et al., 2009). Experts contend that weather-index insurance incentivises farmers to make productive management decisions ‒ as a payment is received regardless of crop losses (Davies et al., 2008). It can also play a role at the macro level to insure governments against natural disasters and provide financing for social protection programmes (IEG, 2012).

However, questions remain about the appropriateness, cost-effectiveness, and affordability of such measures and their effectiveness at targeting the most vulnerable. A comprehensive IEG (2012) evaluation finds that weather-index insurance has had limited uptake at the household level, except where heavily subsidised. A crucial gender dimension to programme design is that weather-index insurance programmes require participants to have ownership rights. Programmes should be designed so they can be purchased by women, who may lack land rights or ownership of livestock they rear (Meinzen-Dick et al., 2011).

IEG. (2012). Adapting to climate change: Assessing the World Bank Group experience: Phase III. Washington, DC: IEG.
This independent evaluation draws lessons from World Bank experience in adaptation to current climate variability and adaptation to future climate change. Though progress has been made at the country level, the evaluation finds that operational systems to identify and mitigate climate risks are not in place at the project level. Important avenues for adaptation include innovative financial products for risk management, land use planning, and the development of a portfolio of new crop varieties. Recommendations include producing guidelines for incorporating climate risk management into project and programme design, and developing and piloting territorial and national-level measures of adaptation-related outcomes.

Hellmuth, M. E., Osgood, D. E., Hess, U., Moorhead, A., & Bhojwani, H. (Eds). (2009). Index insurance and climate risk: Prospects for development and disaster management (Climate and Society No. 2). New York: International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI).
This report draws on case studies and assesses the potential of index insurance to help manage climate variability. The report outlines key lessons and recommendations, concluding that index insurance has provided access to credit and insurance for high-risk populations previously considered uninsurable, and has contributed to economic development and poverty reduction. It has also played a role in providing more timely and reliable disaster relief.

Meinzen-Dick, R., Johnson, N., Quisumbing, A., Njuki, J., Behrman, J., Rubin, D., Peterman, A., & Waitanji, E. (2011). Gender, assets, and agricultural development programs: A conceptual framework (CAPRi Working Paper No. 99). Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.
Authors of this paper report that traditional crop insurance programmes usually protect only land holders, however newer weather-based index insurance products can be purchased by the landless. Nevertheless, when women are less involved in agriculture or weather shocks do not affect their assets directly, they may be less interested in paying for weather insurance. The paper offers a framework for understanding the gendered pathways of asset accumulation ‒ men and women control, own, and dispose of assets in different ways, and usually have different kinds of assets. Several gender-specific hypotheses are raised:

  • different types of assets enable different livelihoods, and a greater diversity of assets is associated with more diverse livelihoods and better well-being;
  • men and women use different assets to cope with different types of risks and shocks;
  • interventions that increase men’s and women’s stock of assets improve the bargaining power of the person who controls that asset; and
  • interventions and policies that reduce the gender gap in assets support food and nutrition security, health, and well-being related to agency and empowerment.

Adaptive social protection

Adaptive social protection (ASP) is an approach that aims to integrate social protection, climate change adaptation and DRR to improve household resilience and reduce vulnerability (Leavy & Gorman, 2012). ASP is designed with a long-term perspective, and emphasises transforming livelihoods to adapt to changing climate conditions (rather than simply coping). It is rooted in a rights-based approach and focuses on gender equality and on poverty and vulnerability reduction (Leavy & Gorman, 2012; Bee et al., 2013). However, evidence of ASP’s effectiveness is limited (Davies et al., 2013; Béné et al., 2013).

Davies, M., Béné, C., Arnall, A., Tanner, T., Newsham, A., & Coirolo, C. (2013). Promoting resilient livelihoods through Adaptive Social Protection: Lessons from 124 programmes in South Asia. Development Policy Review, 31(1).
To what extent are development interventions now integrating social protection, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation? This review of project documentation for 124 agricultural programmes in five countries in Asia shows that full integration is still relatively limited. When it does occur, it helps to shift the time horizon away from short-term protection of incomes, and towards a long-term transformation of livelihoods and social relations.

Davies, M., Guenther, B., Leavy, J., Mitchell, T., & Tanner, T. (2009). Climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and social protection: Complementary roles in agriculture and rural growth? (Working Paper 320). Brighton: IDS.
What is the role of social protection and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in climate adaptation? Drawing on qualitative evidence, this article finds that integrating social protection, DRR and climate adaptation can bolster local resilience and help address the causes of poverty and vulnerability in a rural context. The paper suggests that social protection programmes can be made resilient to climate change impacts by reducing dependency on climate-sensitive livelihood activities. An ‘adaptive social protection’ approach is recommended. This aims to address structural causes of poverty and incorporates a rights-based rationale to address social exclusion.

Béné, C., Cannon, T., Davies, M., Newsham, A., & Tanner, T. (2013). Social protection and climate change (DAC Network on Environment and Development Co-operation DCD/DAC/ENV(2013)2). Paris: OECD.
What progress has been made on Adaptive Social Protection in recent years? This paper provides a condensed review of current knowledge about the role of social protection in reducing the impact of climate change on the poorest populations. Recommendations for donors are proposed regarding five types of intervention: cash transfers, pension schemes, weather indexed micro-insurance, public works, and asset transfers. The concept of ‘resilience’ has recently emerged as a new policy narrative that can help integrate social protection, disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation. More evidence-based analysis is required to understand in detail how social protection programmes affect adaptive capacity.

Leavy, J., & Gorman, C. (2012). Realising the potential of adaptive social protection (IDS in Focus Policy Briefing Issue 28). Brighton: IDS.
Through an analysis of survey data, this brief highlights the differences and similarities between social protection, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Key findings include that climate change is increasing uncertainty in programme planning and is expected to have serious impacts on the lives of social protection beneficiaries, and that social protection is a key instrument for building disaster- or climate-resilience livelihoods.

Bee, B., Biermann, M., & Tschakert, P. (2013). Gender, development and rights-based approaches: Lessons for climate change adaptation and adaptive social protection. In M. Alston & K. Whittenbury (Eds.), Research, action and policy: Addressing the gendered impacts of climate change. Netherlands: Springer.
This chapter examines the links between gender, development, and right-based approaches to highlight the possibilities and pitfalls of such an approach to adaptation. It emphasises social responsibilities to and for others, and the potential for promoting adaptation that values differential skills, assets, expertise, and voices while acknowledging the limits of autonomous actors in adaptation.